CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Sterling Newman coach Mike Papoccia preaches three things: Run the football, play great defense and win the field-position battle. It's a formula the longtime coach has used to win three previous state titles.
The Comets followed the coach's teachings to the letter and snagged the Illinois Class 2A football title Friday at Memorial Stadium with a 48-7 victory over Maroa-Forsyth.
"To me, it's ball control, field position, special teams," Papoccia said. "I think all of those came into play today in this game."
Newman rushed for 376 yards, with Tim Wilson picking up 179, while Joe Blessman ran for 115. Wilson and Blessman each had three touchdowns.
Running game, check.
"If we put more people in the box than what we had in there, I would have had to play," Maroa-Forsyth coach Josh Jostes said of Newman's offense. "There's not much more we could have done schematic-wise, we were in a 6-3, Cover-2."
The Trojans, who came into the game averaging 426 yards, had 111 on Friday, and their lone touchdown came after a 72-yard kickoff return by Toby Propst that set them up at the Newman 23.
"It did surprise me," Wilson said of the ease by which his team won, including being granted a running clock in the fourth quarter. "On film, they looked like a great team. To put nothing past them, they are a great team, but we proved we were ready to play and we were ranked No. 1."
Outside of the game's opening drive when the Comets (14-0) started at their own 22, Newman never started any worse than its own 39. By comparison, the Trojans (11-3) started eight of their 10 drives inside their 40.
Field position, check.
"We knew their pass game wouldn't be as effective going against the wind," Blessman said. "We scored and got up by 13 points and never looked back after halftime."
About midway through the second quarter in a scoreless game, the Trojans lined up to punt. The snap sailed over the head of Maroa-Forsyth punter Joe Hockaday. Comets senior defensive lineman Carlos Salazar fell on the loose football at the Trojans' 2-yard line, setting up Newman's first score.
Special teams, check.
Grabbing an early lead and controlling field position was the way the Comets envisioned the game plan.
"We just didn't think they could continually move the ball on us in chunks," Papoccia said. "We had to stay away from the big ones because if they score too fast, we're in trouble."
Newman becomes the second consecutive Class 2A champion from the Big Rivers conference, replacing Morrison, which defeated Maroa-Forsyth last year.
The Comets went wire-to-wire as the state's No. 1 team in Class 2A.
"These kids knew how to take it one at a time," Papoccia said. "You have to, especially in our conference. Our conference is dynamite."